HOME >> ARKANSAS >> FORT SMITH >> TRUCK DRIVER TRAINING


Request Free Info on Trucking 
Schools Near You Fort Smith AR 72901

How to Decide on the Best Truck Driving School near Fort Smith Arkansas

Fort Smith Arkansas tractor trailer on side of interstate highwayCongrats on your decision to become a truck driver and enroll in a trucking school near Fort Smith AR. Maybe it has always been your fantasy to hit the open highway while operating a monster tractor trailer. Or maybe you have done some research and have found that a career as a truck driver offers excellent pay and flexible work prospects. No matter what your reason is, it's imperative to receive the proper training by enrolling in the right CDL school in your area. When reviewing your options, there are various variables that you'll need to consider prior to making your final selection. Location will undoubtedly be important, especially if you need to commute from your Fort Smith home. The cost will also be of importance, but picking a school based exclusively on price is not the best way to make sure you'll get the appropriate education. Don't forget, your objective is to learn the skills and knowledge that will enable you to pass the CDL examinations and become a professional truck driver. So keeping that objective in mind, just how do you choose a truck driving school? The answer to that question is what we are going to discuss in the rest of this article. But first, we are going to talk a little bit about which commercial driver's license you will eventually need.

Which Commercial Drivers License Will You Need?

Fort Smith Arkansas cement mixing truck

In order to operate commercial vehicles lawfully within the USA and Fort Smith AR, a driver needs to attain a CDL (Commercial Driver's License). The three classes of licenses that one can apply for are Class A, Class B and Class C. Since the topic of this article is how to select a truck driving school, we will highlight Class A and B licenses. What distinguishes each class of CDL is the kind of vehicle that the driver can operate together with the GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) or GCWR (Gross Combination Weight Rating). Below are short summaries for the two classes.

Class A CDL. A Class A CDL is required to drive any vehicle that has a GCWR of greater than 26,000 lbs., including a towed vehicle of greater than 10,000 lbs. Some of the vehicles that operators may be able to drive with Class A licenses are:

  • Interstate or Intrastate Tractor Trailers
  • Trucks with Double or Triple Trailers
  • Tanker Trucks
  • Livestock Carriers
  • Class B and Class C Vehicles

Class B CDL. A Class B CDL is required to operate single vehicles having a GVWR of greater than 26,000 lbs., or a GCWR of more than 26,000 lbs. including a towed vehicle weighing up to 10,000 lbs. A few of the vehicles that operators may be qualified to drive with Class B licenses are:

  • Tractor Trailers
  • Dump Trucks
  • Cement Mixers
  • Large Buses
  • Class C Vehicles

Both Class A and Class B CDLs may also need endorsements to drive specific kinds of vehicles, such as passenger or school buses. And a Class A license holder, with the proper required endorsements, may operate any vehicle that a Class B license holder is authorized to drive.

How to Assess a CDL School

Fort Smith Arkansas trucker school campus

Once you have determined which Commercial Drivers License you would like to pursue, you can begin the process of researching the Fort Smith AR truck driving schools that you are considering. As already discussed, location and cost will no doubt be your primary concerns. But it can't be stressed enough that they must not be your only considerations. Other factors, including the reputations of the schools or the experience of the instructors are similarly or even more important. So following are some more things that you need to research while performing your due diligence before choosing, and especially paying for, your truck driver training.

Are the Schools Certified or Accredited ? Very few truck driving schools in the Fort Smith AR area are accredited due to the stringent process and cost to the schools. However, certification is more prevalent and is provided by the Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI). A school is not required to become certified, but there are several advantages. Interested students know that the training will be of the highest caliber, and that they will be given an ample amount of driving time. For example, PTDI requires 44 hours of real driving time, not ride-alongs or simulations. So if a school's course is certified (the course, not the school is certified), students know that the curriculum and training will meet the very high standards set by PTDI.

How Long in Business? One clue to help assess the quality of a trucking school is how long it has been in operation. A poorly ranked or a fly by night school typically will not be in business very long, so longevity is a plus. However, even the best of Fort Smith AR schools had to begin from their first day of training, so consider it as one of several qualifiers. You can also learn what the school's track record is regarding successful licensing and employment of its graduating students. If a school won't supply those stats, look elsewhere. The schools should also maintain relationships with regional and national trucking companies. Having numerous contacts not only affirms a quality reputation within the profession, but also bolsters their job assistance program for graduates. It also wouldn't be a bad idea to check with the Arkansas licensing authority to confirm that the CDL trucking schools you are researching are in good standing.

How Effective is the Training? As a minimum requirement, the schools must be licensed in Arkansas and hire teachers that are experienced and trained. We will discuss more about the instructors in the next section. Also, the student to instructor ratio should not be higher than 4 to 1. If it's any higher, then students will not be getting the personalized instruction they will need. This is especially true concerning the one-on-one instruction for behind the wheel training. And be critical of any school that claims it can teach you to be a truck driver in a relatively short period of time. Learning to be an operator and to drive a tractor trailer professionally takes time. The majority of Fort Smith AR schools offer training programs that run from 3 weeks to as long as two months, based on the class of license or kind of vehicle.

How Experienced are the Instructors? As already mentioned, it's imperative that the instructors are qualified to teach driving techniques and experienced as both instructors and drivers. Even though several states have minimum driving time criteria to qualify as an instructor, the more professional driving experience a teacher has the better. It's also important that the instructors stay up to date with industry advancements or any new regulations or changes in existing laws. Evaluating teachers might be a bit more intuitive than other criteria, and perhaps the best approach is to check out the school and speak with the teachers face to face. You can also speak with some of the students completing the training and find out if they are happy with the quality of instruction and the teacher's ability to train them.

Enough Driving Time? Most importantly, an excellent truck driver school will furnish sufficient driving time to its students. Besides, isn't that what it's all about? Driving time is the actual time spent behind the wheel operating a truck. Although the use of simulators and ride-a-longs with other students are necessary training tools, they are no replacement for real driving. The more instruction that a student receives behind the wheel, the better driver she or he will become. And even though driving time can vary among schools, a reasonable standard is 32 hours at a minimum. If the school is PTDI certified, it will furnish at least 44 hours of driving time. Contact the Fort Smith AR schools you are considering and ask how much driving time they provide.

Are they Independent or Captive ? It's possible to receive free or discounted training from a number of truck driver schools if you make a commitment to be a driver for a particular carrier for a defined time period. This is referred to as contract training, and the schools that provide it are called captives. So rather than maintaining associations with numerous trucking lines that they can place their graduates with, captives only refer to one company. The benefit is receiving less expensive or even free training by giving up the freedom to initially be a driver wherever you have an opportunity. Obviously contract training has the potential to limit your income prospects when starting out. But for many it may be the ideal way to obtain affordable training. Just remember to find out if the Fort Smith AR schools you are contemplating are captive or independent so that you can make an informed decision.

Is there CDL Testing Onsite? There are a number of states that will allow 3rd party CDL testing onsite of truck driving schools for its graduates. If onsite testing is permitted in Arkansas, ask if the schools you are looking at are DMV certified to offer it. One advantage is that it is more accommodating than battling with graduates from competing schools for test times at Arkansas testing centers. It is also an indicator that the DMV considers the authorized schools to be of a superior quality.

Are the Classes Convenient? As previously mentioned, truck driving training is only about 1 to 2 months in length. With such a brief duration, it's essential that the Fort Smith AR school you enroll in provides flexibility for both the scheduling of classes and the curriculum. As an example, if you're having a hard time learning a particular driving maneuver, then the teacher should be willing to devote more time with you until you have it mastered. And if you're still holding a job while attending training, then the class scheduling must be flexible enough to fit in working hours or other obligations.

Is Job Assistance Provided? The moment you have obtained your commercial driver's license after graduating from truck driving school, you will be eager to start your new profession. Confirm that the schools you are considering have job placement programs. Find out what their job placement percentage is and what average salary their grads start at. Also, ask which national and local trucking companies their graduates are placed with for employment. If a school has a lower job placement rate or few Fort Smith AR employers recruiting their grads, it may be a sign to search elsewhere.

Is Financial Aid Offered? Truck driving schools are similar to colleges and other Fort Smith AR area technical or vocational schools when it comes to loans and other forms of financial aid being offered. Find out if the schools you are evaluating have a financial assistance department, or at a minimum someone who can help you get through the options and forms that need to be completed.

Find Out More About Fort Smith CDL Driver Schools

Enroll in the Right Fort Smith AR CDL Training

Selecting the right truck driving school is an essential first step to starting your new occupation as a long distance or local truck driver. The skills that you will learn at school will be those that shape a new career behind the wheel. There are several options offered and understanding them is critical if you are going to succeed as an operator.  But first and foremost, you must receive the necessary training in order to operate a large commercial vehicle in a safe and professional fashion. If you are lacking money or financing, you might need to consider a captive school. You will pay a lower or in some cases no tuition by agreeing to drive for their contracted carrier. Or you can choose an independent truck driver school and have the option of driving for the trucking company of your choosing, or one of several affiliated with the school. It's your decision. But no matter how you obtain your training, you will in the near future be joining an industry that helps America move as a professional trucker in Fort Smith AR.